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COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?
Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash
Though European passports offer a huge range of benefits, the rules and costs for getting your hands on one vary massively from country to country. Here's a look at which countries have strictest and most lenient requirements.

In the wake of Brexit, thousands of Brits across Europe have been taking on the nationality of the country where they live as a way of maintaining their EU citizenship – and they’re not alone.

With EU and EEA passports conferring the right to work and live freely throughout the bloc, obtaining a new European nationality has been a long-standing dream for many migrants. If you’re one of them, the rules for doing so will depend on where you live. 

Gaining citizenship through family or through marriage is possible, but if you don’t have any useful relatives or an EU spouse you’ll be looking at getting citizenship through residency.

From residency requirements to rules on dual nationality, every country in Europe has its own way of tackling naturalisation. Here’s a run-down of some of the most sought-after European nationalities, how you can go about getting hold of one and how much the basic fee is (this cost does not include the certified translation of documents which can easily run into several hundred euro depending on how many documents you need translated). 

Austria

At ten years’ continuous residence, Austria has one of the longest naturalisation processes of any European country, making it a slightly less attractive option for anyone looking for a shortcut to EU citizenship. Combined with high application fees and the fact that, like Germany and Spain, Austria has strict rules against dual nationality, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Austrian citizenship is one of the least applied-for citizenships in Europe. In the wake of Brexit, however, the number of Brits applying for an Austrian passport has been steadily rising. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about applying for Austrian citizenship

If you do want to become a naturalised Austrian and think you meet the requirements, you’ll need to fill in an application form and submit a range of documents, including your passport, birth certificate (translated into German), proof of your Austrian address and uninterrupted residency in the country, B1 German and a completed citizenship test. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have a positive attitude towards Austria and can support yourself financially without relying on the state.

Application Fee: €130 to apply, €1,100-1,500 if granted 

Length of time living in country: 10 years  

Language level needed: B1 German

Dual nationality allowed: No

France

France has one of the shortest residency qualifying periods. For most foreign nationals, you’ll need to have spent five years in the country, but this can be reduced to two if you have completed postgraduate studies at a French university. As you might expect, the main criterion for citizenship is successful integration: you’ll need to show that you’re able to speak French at an intermediate level, and that you have a knowledge of, and appreciation for, French culture, history and politics. 

For the application, you’ll need two copies of the application form – demande d’acquisition de la nationalité francaise – in addition to a valid passport, certified translations of your birth certificate and those of your parents, tax returns and January and December payslips from the past three years, a rental agreement or proof of home ownership in France, a clean criminal record and a B1 (or higher) language certificate.

READ ALSO Philosophy, household chores and cheese – what you might be asked in the French citizenship interview

After submitting your documents, you’ll be invited to an interview (in French) in which you’ll likely need to demonstrate your knowledge of and commitment to the French way of life. While you won’t necessarily have to list every monarch in the Ancien Régime, your knowledge of civic life and politics could be tested, so it’s a good idea to have a read of the citizenship booklet (known as the Livre de Citoyen) beforehand.

The processing time for applications is quite long though – the average is 18 months to two years between first submitting your application and gaining citizenship.

Application Fee: €55

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: B1 French 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Denmark

To qualify for citizenship in Denmark, you’ll need to not only have spent almost a decade in the country, but will need to have pretty good written and spoken Danish to boot. While many European countries settle for A2 or B1 language skills, the Danish government require most migrants applying for citizenship to complete a language certificate known as Prøve I Dansk 3, which equates to B2 Danish. If you can prove that you’ve been financially independent for the past 8.5 years and haven’t relied on state benefits, however, passing the Prøve I Dansk 2, which equates to B1 Danish, will suffice.  

Once you’ve got your nine years and know your rugbrød from your flæskesteg, you’ll be asked to sign a declaration pledging allegiance and loyalty to Denmark and Danish society and promising to abide by its laws. You also need to submit paperwork to prove your identity, current nationality, residency and economic activity in Denmark and pass a citizenship test with questions about Danish life, culture and politics. 

Once you get through all this and your citizenship application has been approved by the Danish parliament, you’ll be required to attend a ceremony at which you must shake hands with a local official. If you refuse the handshake, you can wave goodbye to your new nationality.

In recent months, the Danish government has also put forward proposals to introduce new questions on Danish values in the citizenship test and an interview as part of the process, but this hasn’t, as yet, been put into law.

Application Fee: €510 (3,800 DKK) 

Length of time living in country: 9 years

Language level needed: B2 Danish

Dual nationality allowed: Yes 

READ ALSO: The hurdles you have to overcome to gain Danish citizenship

Germany

As with most aspects of life in Germany, becoming a naturalised citizen entails a lot of paperwork. If you want to apply after six years, you’ll need to show that you’ve been continually resident in the country continuous for this time, have upper intermediate (B2 level) German and have successfully completed an integration course at your local Volkshochschule. If you’re applying after eight years, as most people do, you can dispense with the integration course, but you will need to prove you’re integrated into society by demonstrating conversational (B1) German language skills and passing a citizenship test with questions on to German politics and culture.

In addition to this, you can expect to be asked for a completed application form, valid passport, certified translations of your birth certificate, tax returns from previous years, proof of valid health insurance, and your most recent rental agreement or proof of home ownership. Since the end of the Brexit transition period, British people applying for German citizenship have also been treated in the same way as other third-country nationals, meaning that in most cases they have to renounce their UK citizenship in order to become German. 

Application Fee: €255

Length of time living in country: 6-8 years 

Language level needed: B1 German 

Dual nationality allowed: In general no, but there are exceptions such as for EU citizens, and sometimes when a parent holds German nationality.

Italy

Like Austria and Spain, the residency requirement for non-EU nationals to obtain Italian citizenship is a hefty ten years, although there is an alternative route for people who can prove they have Italian heritage through a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent. Due to some slightly odd legal clauses on maternal versus paternal heritage, this route can get a little complex, so it’s best to read up on the specific rules before applying.

READ ALSO: How to become Italian: A guide to getting citizenship

For anyone not eligible for this Jure Sanguinis, or ‘citizenship by descent’, the ten-year waiting period is reduced for employees of the Italian state, who can apply after just five years of service. For citizens of another EU state, meanwhile, the residency requirement is reduced to four years. If you happen to have been born in Italy, wherever your parents are from originally, you can apply after three years of living there as an adult.

Other than residency, would-be Italians will have to show that they have intermediate Italian language skills, sufficient financial resources to support themselves and a clean criminal record in order to qualify for an Italian passport. After the process, new Italians are required to swear an oath of allegiance to the state.  

Application Fee: €250

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: B1 Italian 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Norway

Much like Denmark, which changed its dual nationality rules in 2015, Norway passed a law in 2020 to allow Norwegians (and foreigners wanting to become Norwegian) to keep another citizenship alongside the Norwegian one. To be eligible for this sought-after passport, migrants have to notch up at least seven years in the country on a valid residence permit – although unlike other countries, Norway’s immigration authorities do allow for some periods of absence.  

After filling in an online application, you’ll have to deliver a series of documents in person, including your birth certificates, marriage certificates (if applicable), a full list of entries into and departures from Norway, at least seven years of tax returns, and a police report certifying “good conduct”. Depending on your previous nationality, you have to achieve either A2 or B1 Norwegian, as well as passing a one-hour citizenship test which can be completed in either of the two written varieties of Norwegian (Bokmål or Nynorsk). 

Application Fee: ~€250 (N0K 2,500)

Length of time living in country: 7 of the past 10 years

Language level needed: A2/B1 Norwegian 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Spain

For most people wanting to become Spanish through the naturalisation route, a ten-year legal residency period in Spain and at least a basic level of Spanish are non-negotiable. There are some exceptions to this stringent residency requirement, however, for citizens of Spanish-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, and those of Sephardic origin, who can be fast-tracked after two years, and for refugees, who can apply after five years. These groups are also allowed to obtain dual nationality, while in most cases new citizens of Spain are required to give up their existing one.

Applicants for naturalisation will need to apply at their local Civil Registry with their birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and a certificate of good conduct from the police in their country of origin, all of which must be officially translated into Spanish. They’ll also have to provide a certificate of at least A2 Spanish from the Cervantes Institute, as well as completing a multiple-choice citizenship test on aspects of Spanish life and culture. (If you fancy having a go, you can find our version of it here.) The final part of the process (after the application has been accepted) is to swear loyalty to the King and promise to abide by Spain’s laws and constitution. Unfortunately, there are reports stating many Spanish citizenship applications can take two to four years to be processed

Application Fee: €60-100 

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: A2 Spanish

Dual nationality allowed: No

Sweden

In keeping with its liberal reputation, Sweden has some of the most relaxed citizenship laws in Europe, with no language requirement for new Swedes and only a five-year residency period needed to attain citizenship.

For anyone who has been married to or cohabiting with a Swedish partner for at least two years, this can be reduced still further to only three years, although you will be asked to show that you’ve adapted well to Swedish life (through learning the language, for example, but you could also prove this by showing you can support yourself or through the length of your marriage). There is also a quicker process for other Nordic citizens.

You should also be aware that Sweden has pretty strict rules on the definition of ‘continuous residence’, so while short trips abroad are fine, spending more than six weeks abroad in any given year will extend the period of time until you can apply for citizenship. In addition, only time in Sweden under a valid residence permit (for non-EU citizens) counts towards your residence, so if you entered without one and later got one, this initial period of time won’t count. 

While Swedish language skills are not currently a requirement for citizenship, this could also change in the future: in January 2021, the Swedish Ministry of Justice and Migration put forward proposals to introduce an A2 language exam for would-be Swedes, with exceptions for vulnerable individuals who have made a reasonable effort to learn the language. These proposals will be subject to a long political process before they can be put into law, however, so at present you’ll just need to prove your identity, duration of residency in Sweden, and no record or serious criminal offences or debts.

It is also worth being aware that while the time needed in order to be eligible for citizenship is relatively short, processing time is not. The Migration Agency says applicants should expect an average of 39 months between submitting their application and becoming Swedish. Readers of The Local have reported the process taking anywhere between a couple of weeks to over three years.

Application Fee: ~€150 (1,500 SEK) 

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: None 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Switzerland

Switzerland’s administrative system and bureaucratic idiosyncrasies can make applying for citizenship just a little complicated (to put it mildly).

While 10 years is the minimum residency requirement in the country as a whole, you may also find that your local area imposes different restrictions on how long you should have lived in that locality – with some Cantons requiring as much as eight years’ residence in that district.

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

To be in with a chance, you’ll need to have decent language skills in at least one of Switzerland’s national languages. This generally means at least A2 written and B1 spoken German, French or Italian, but Cantons are free to impose higher requirements if they wish.

You’ll also need to show a certain level of integration (which again varies depending on your locality), be financially secure (i.e. not reliant on state benefits) for at least three years before applying, and show a clean criminal record with no jailable offences. 

To make matters even trickier, a committee of local residents may also have a say in whether you’re eligible for citizenship, so it’s worth staying friendly with the neighbours if you want to become Swiss.

Applicants are also sometimes asked for specific examples of how they participate in the life of their towns or villages, and what local organisations they belong to.

Being a member of local choirs or volunteer fire brigades is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the willingness to be part of, and contribute to, their local communities.

This may explain why some people who seemingly qualify for Swiss citizenship because they have lived in the country for a long time, speak the language, and are gainfully employed, are turned down by local authorities.

One such example was a British café owner in canton Schwyz, who was denied citizenship after failing to answer a question about the origins of a Swiss cheese dish, raclette. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to become a Swiss citizen?

Another well publicised example was a Dutch woman living in Aargau, whose first attempt to get a Swiss passport was turned down because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

In 2020, an Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed questions on the test about animals in the local zoo. The decision was however overturned by a federal court. 

Application Fee: €90 (100 CHF) on a federal level, plus Canton fees

Length of time living in country: 10 years 

Language level needed: A2/B1 German, Italian or French

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

Other European countries

Belgium

Alongside Sweden and France, Belgium has some of the lowest barriers to citizenship in Europe. To be eligible for Belgian citizenship, you’ll need to have been registered at an address in Belgium for at least five years, show knowledge of one of the national languages in Belgium (Dutch, German or French) and demonstrate ‘economic participation’ in the country, which essentially means having paid taxes and other social security contributions for at least a few years.

Application Fee: €50

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: A2 French, Dutch or German 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

The Netherlands 

Like Germany and Spain, the Netherlands has rules against dual nationality, meaning you’ll be asked to renounce your current citizenship if you want to become Dutch. If you do decide to take the plunge, you’ll need to have lived in the country for five consecutive years, taken the civic integration exam, and be prepared to declare your solidarity with the Dutch state at the final citizenship ceremony. 

Application Fee: €925

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: A2 Dutch 

Dual nationality allowed: No

Portugal

To become Portuguese, you’ll need basic language skills and at least six years of continuous residence in the country. In addition, you’ll need to provide your passport, birth certificate, a list of countries previously resided in, and a criminal record certificate with no serious convictions listed. 

Application Fee: €200

Length of time living in country: 6 years 

Language level needed: A2 Portuguese 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

United Kingdom & Ireland 

Ireland

Since the end of the Brexit transition period in January 2021, Ireland has had a unique status as the one nationality with the automatic right to live and work freely in both the UK and the EU. Equally, anyone born in Northern Ireland to British or Irish parents is entitled to both a UK and an Irish passport if they wish, giving them an automatic route to EU citizenship. Like Italy, there’s also an ancestral route to citizenship, meaning those with Irish parents or grandparents are entitled to an Irish passport under most circumstances. 

For everyone else, the process of becoming Irish is pretty straightforward, with just five years’ residence required. Nevertheless, the cost of obtaining a certificate of naturalisation is eye-wateringly high, so you may need to wait until you have a bit of spare cash before going ahead with the process. 

Application Fee: €175 on application, €950 if approved 

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: None 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes

United Kingdom 

To be eligible for UK citizenship, you’ll need to have lived in the UK for at least five years, have passed the ‘life in the UK’ test and be able to prove that you have at least an intermediate grasp of English.

At more than £1,300, the application fees are by far the highest of any European country, so you’ll need to be financially stable to apply. 

Application Fee: £1330

Length of time living in country: 5 years 

Language level needed: B1 English 

Dual nationality allowed: Yes 


Member comments

  1. Norway and Switzerland, although both have signed up to agreements with the EU, are not actually EU member states. If the aim is to get freedom of circulation throughout the EU thanks to either of these nationalities, best check beforehand to see what has been agreed.

  2. We had an the baffling experience recently of trying to claim Polish citizenship for my husband whose grandmother was forced to flee Poland in the 1930s. According to Polish law, this ancestry means that he should be considered Polish and eligible for citizenship BUT we were told when we contacted a Polish citizenship lawyer that this only applies to male lineage! In other words, if it had been his grandfather and not his grandmother who had been Polish, he would be eligible but, for unknown reasons, female ancestors are not treated the same way. I would love to know if this would stand up to a legal challenge, or if there are other circumstances/facts we’re unaware of.

    1. Italy has a similar law, but it does not stand up to legal challenges and thousands of people get their citizenship through a “judicial” process.

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